Christina Scott — Africa’s foremost science journalist, an inspiration across the continent and beyond, and my colleague and friend — died today.
I last saw Christina in a dragons’ den. She was one of the dragons. We were in Doha at the World Conference of Science Journalists in June 2011. In a session organised by IDRC, three researchers had to pitch their stories to a trio of hardened media editors: the dragons.
Christina led the pack and showed the researchers how people need stories not statistics, plain speech not jargon, and that if scientists cannot explain themselves in terms people understand and value, they should not be surprised if journalists misinterpret them.
The researchers — all with great ideas — looked a little sad after the dragons had finished gnawing on the bones of their stories, but they all left the room as better communicators.
The first time I met Christina was at the same conference six years earlier, in Montreal. She was telling me about poutine, the strange melange of fries, gravy and cheese curds that the city is proud to call its own. Soon she had tracked some down and was showing it off to anyone who passed by. An hour later she was helping to form the African Federation of Science Journalists.
Those are just some of the ways I remember Christina.
She was a tiny, straight-talking, fact-demanding package of endless energy, an adventurer with a lust for life, an endless fountain of stories, a kind woman whose humility spoke right from her eyes. Eyes that always twinkled with youthful rebellion.
Christina died today in her beloved South Africa in a tragic accident that has sent shockwaves around the world.
Other friends will write about Christina’s journalism, her book about Nelson Mandela, her many awards and her bravery in confronting ignorance in power. I just want to say a few words about her legacy.
As a veteran journalist Christina told helpful and hopeful stories to vast numbers of South Africans. That is important enough.
But as an inspiration and mentor to an entire generation of science journalists across the continent and beyond, her knowledge and her wisdom will continue to penetrate minds for a long time to come.
Christina loved to help people and to help her profession. Any journalist or science communicator who spent just a few minutes with her came away with new thoughts about ways to do things better.
But many journalists have been lucky enough to work with Christina more closely. Together they now speak to millions of people. As they do, I hope Christina’s lessons linger.
She was a mother of science journalism and we, her many adopted children, can honour her in the stories we tell.